Made In The Football League: Which England Stars Have Played At Lower League Clubs?
England’s players will head over to Portugal this week as they look to win some silverware in the form of the Nations League. The Netherlands will provide difficult opposition on Thursday night but the Three Lions have the experience of the World Cup behind them and will be hoping to use that to their benefit this week.
Most of the players in the 23 man squad also have the benefit of having worked their way up the Football League, giving them the benefit of dealing with differing scenarios at a young age. Men’s football is extremely tough in the lower leagues and can be the making of these talented youngsters.
Jordan Pickford is a perfect example. He had to start from the bottom and work his way up. A Sunderland academy kid, he had loan spells at Darlington and Alfreton in non-league before earning his stripes in League Two with Burton and Carlisle. He then moved up to League One with Bradford before spending time in the Championship with Preston, before breaking through into the Sunderland first team. The only player in the England squad who has played in England’s top five tiers.
Sheffield United is Kyle Walker’s his boyhood club but he also had spells at Northampton, QPR and Villa in the Football League. He then broke into the first team at Spurs before becoming the most expensive full-back in the world when he joined Manchester City for £50m.
John Stones came through at Barnsley, Harry Maguire at Sheffield United, Callum Wilson at Coventry and Fabian Delph at Leeds. Loan spells have proved vital to these young players’ development and there are a whole host of examples of this. Danny Rose spent time at Peterborough and Bristol City, Jordan Henderson scored his first senior goal whilst at Coventry whilst fellow midfielder Ross Barkley gained experience at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds. Captain Harry Kane had to go to Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich and Leicester to find gametime
For all the criticism aimed at him, Jesse Lingard did the hard yards with load spells at Leicester, Birmingham, Brighton and Derby.
The most famous of the lot, of course, is Dele Alli. The MK Dons man made over 70 appearances for the club and helped them to promotion before joining Spurs where he has become a key man for club and country. But all of these other players journey’s have been overlooked somewhat in comparison to the midfielder.
In the 23 man England squad for the Nations League, just six of the squad have not played in the Football League, and two of those made their name abroad. Eric Dier and Jadon Sancho broke through at Sporting and Dortmund respectively whilst Raheem Sterling, Declan Rice, Marcus Rashford and Trent Alexander-Arnold all broke through into their first teams at an early age. For comparison, England's 2006 World Cup squad featured 11 players who had not played in the Football League, showing the progress in terms of experience this side has made.
The Football League is simply remarkable and must take some credit for the success of the England team. This is also a reminder of the success that the loan market can bring for both football clubs and players. Bring on the Nations League!